When You Spend Christmas Alone: Celebrating the Holidays Without Family
Shortly after my husband and I got married, the military whisked us away from where we grew up in the Midwest to the island of Hawaii. It was lovely. It was warm. It was very far from home. Between the military salary and the extreme cost of living in Hawaii, going home for Christmas that first year was simply out of the question.
Christmas for us had previously been defined by family. We went to the church where I grew up for the candlelight service then quickly drove over to Hubby’s aunt’s house for their family Christmas Eve party. Christmas morning was spent with my family as there were still little ones in the house who woke up before the crack of dawn to see if Santa came then we split the rest of the day bouncing back and forth between festivities with different family members. It varied slightly from year to year but one thing was consistent, family.
Suddenly, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we were the only family each other had to celebrate with.
It was quite daunting, looking at the holidays and trying to determine how to make it special. Should we invite friends over? If so, from church or from work? What traditions did we want to adopt? Was it silly if it was just the two of us? These were the questions that plagued our mind but, ultimately, we came up with a few ideas that have now stood the test of time.
Even if there are only two of you, you are still a family.
We realized that first Christmas that we were a family. A family isn’t created the day you welcome a child into your home, it starts the day you say, “I do.”
When we recognized this, it brought a new element of joy to our celebrations. We weren’t two wanders away from family, we were our own household, deciding how we wanted to celebrate. Our celebrations will inevitably change if/when we have kids or if we get to spend the holidays nearer to family but, no matter what, we established that we have left our families of origin and created something entirely new and beautiful.
There are always people looking for a place.
Our first Thanksgiving, we were the people looking for a place to be. Our small group leaders invited us into their home (despite us only having been at the church for a few weeks) and gave us a place to belong.
That Christmas, we reached out to the men and women in my husband’s unit and opened up our home for Christmas dinner and games. These people quickly became like family because, like us, they were looking for a place to belong.
If you’re in that place this Christmas, the place where you’re not sure where you belong, I encourage you to become the place of belonging. Open up your doors and invite others in. You’d be shocked how many people are looking for a place to spend their holidays.
Break open the game cabinet. Pop a bowl of popcorn. Ask everyone to pitch in and bring something for dinner. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but in giving people a place, you make a new place for yourself as well.
We needed to embrace old traditions and create new ones.
Growing up, my parents always let us open one present on Christmas Eve and, every year, it was new Christmas pajamas. We always knew it was coming but we were still excited and they were glad we’d look presentable in the Christmas morning pictures. So that first Christmas alone, my husband and I bought each other Christmas pajamas. Some years, they’ve been normal looking flannel pants and t-shirts that we would take on an overnight trip. Other years, we’ve ended up with furry, Chewbacca onesies. Both years we’ve found joy in continuing this tradition.
We also decided to continue on with stockings even though Santa obviously does not visit married couples without children. Not only did the hanging of stockings add some beauty to our Christmas décor, but opening them Christmas morning brings a sense of fun and anticipation to the table.
Our Christmases are changing. We are moving closer to family for a little while. Our friend-family we created in Hawaii is scattered now, but they taught us some very important lessons about the holidays and about our marriage.
It wasn’t easy, there were moments of sadness when we realized that the family was probably singing carols by the fire or eating that strawberry pretzel salad that neither of us ever mastered.
But those moments, even the sad ones, inspired us. We took the memories, we took the feeling of belonging, and created a new family and place for ourselves and others to belong. Because of that, we’ve never spent Christmas alone.
More married couples need to be encouraged that just because they don’t have children it doesn’t mean they aren’t a family. Part of two becoming one is starting your own unique family traditions.
Yes! It’s so easy to think that your family starts post-children instead of post-wedding!
These are all great things to keep in mind. I like the idea of inviting friends over!
We do Christmas pajamas too. I love that you do this as a couple!
In a college town we’ve adjusted our expectations too by including strangers at our Thanksgiving table. But they are always so thankful to be included in a home.
It’s so fun! One year, we both tried to get each other Chewbacca onesie pajamas but my husband’s friend (who had helped me figure out what size my husband needed) convinced him to get me different ones. We laughed so hard when he opened his!
It’s such a blessing to be included with a family in a home! I know extending your Thanksgiving table means so much to them!
Its very nice how two people spend their Christmas alone. Now what about people that is completly alone. They don’t have family at all or any friends. How do you think those people spend Christmas? I would like very much to have a reply. Thank you……
Luiz, While I wrote this with military couples in mind, I think it applies to singles, as well as couples, without family nearby. I spent several special days and holidays alone while my husband was deployed and we were away from family and the biggest help was to look around and see who else was alone. There were so many people around me that needed loved ones to celebrate with. I developed many special traditions with friends and even some special traditions that I celebrate by myself.
I would encourage anyone alone for the holidays to reach out to their church and those in their community and focus on making the holidays special for them. Host a dinner, decorating, or baking party. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re making the day special for others!
Mary Lee Robinson
I applaud your solution to gather new friends on holidays, but I ask you to take a moment and seriously ponder the plight of the widowed, especially newly widowed. Many of us either have little family or family, like you experienced, is far away. I assure you, absolutely nothing, but nothing, is lonelier than Christmas when your spouse is gone…permanently.
Please remember to include us. We have lots of love and stories to share, and they aren’t necessarily sad. We love being included!
BaileyMary Lee Robinson
Mary, Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I have walked through the loss of a spouse with friends before and know how difficult the holidays are. As a Church, we need to be especially conscious of loving those around us experiencing this loss.